1917-1919. An archive of World War I material from John Platt Jr. [1894 - 1966], a 23 year old volunteer ambulance driver with the American Field Service and United States Army, 1917 - 1919. A captivating group of 47 items providing a personal look into the world of the volunteer ambulance driver before the American involvement in W.W.I on both sides of the trenches.
A unique aspect to this collection is the German perspective, revealed through captured photographs & a propaganda leaflet which depict life in the German trenches. Of special note is a rare photo of 'American Soldiers Captured at Morhange, Dec. 21, 1917', members of the 16th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Division. This is an image of the very first American soldiers captured by the Germans during a night trench raid on 3 November, 1917, in which the first 3 American casualties of the war were also inflicted on the American Expeditionary Force. This group photograph is a slightly different and previously unknown frame from the same photo session as the German propaganda postcard titled "Die Ersten Gefangenen Amerikaner" (The First Captured Americans) in the Library of Congress. Our research showed only four variations of images of these captured soldiers exist, beside this one.* Two of them are versions of this image used as German postcards. There is also a rare German "Flying Leaflet", Deutsche Flugblätter: "Demokratie und Frieden" (Democracy and Peace), comparing the democracies of France, England and the Wilson-led United States with that of Germany. Included is a partial translation by Platt.
We were not able to find a recorded copy of this (see below).
Driving an ambulance enabled sympathetic Americans to participate in W.W.I before the official entrance of the U.S. in 1917. Approximately two thousand of the Field Service volunteers came from more than 100 different American colleges, with the Ivy League schools leading the list.
In April 1915 an agreement was negotiated with the French military to have some ambulance drivers from the American Hospital in Paris serve closer to the front lines of battle. This group of ambulance drivers came to be known as the American Ambulance Field Service, later known as the "American Field Service" (AFS). It grew to be the largest of the volunteer ambulance corps serving overseas during the war. Its 2,500 volunteer drivers served in 34 AFS ambulance sections and evacuated more than 400,000 casualties during the war. Many went on to become officers or aspirants in the French artillery and aviation. Once the U.S. joined forces with the Allies, the AFS was then incorporated into the United States Army Ambulance Service (U.S.A.A.S.).
Platt of Westfield, New Jersey was one of these idealistic young volunteers. Influenced by books such as "The Diary of Section VIII", and with a sensitivity for social issues of the day, he enlisted in the AFS in March 1917.
This collection reflects his interests, experiences, relationships and losses through letters, postcards, photographs, maps, other documents and materials. Among the group of approximately 47 pieces of ephemera and photographs is Platt's US passport, French Residency Permit, ID card for the American Ambulance Automobile Service of the American Hospital in Paris, and his French proficiency permit to drive an automobile. Drivers were required to care for their Ford ambulances and Platt saved his copy of "American Field Service in France Twenty Rules for Care of Ford Ambulances and Instruction Chart". In a copy of "The Radiator", (December 25, 1918 issue) is the most complete summary of life in the Ambulance Service. This 8pp issue of the official newspaper of the US Army Ambulance Service with the French Army contains a wealth of information in articles about day-to-day operations and life in the ambulance service, awards given, casualties and a history of the volunteer services, which were the forerunners of the U.S.A.A.S. in France. It includes statistics of casualties and life at 21 Rue Raynouard - headquarters for the men of the service from the time it was created as the AFS.
The collection also tells the story of friendships, such as that with Robert Meacham, a fellow volunteer from Cleveland who is pictured with Platt and other ambulance drivers in a newspaper clipping, "Group of American Ambulance Drivers on the French Front Having a Special Holiday and Celebration, For Which the French Commander in That Sector Contributed a Case of Champagne". His own commitment to service is memorialized in a publication entitled "The Lifter" from the company back home that employed him.
Many items in the collection tell the story of John's friendship with Coleman T. Clark, his friend from back home in Westfield. One of the promotional "Diary Section VIII American Ambulance Field Service" books is given "Compliments of Salter Storrs Clark, March 1917", Coleman's father. Cole also volunteered as an ambulance driver, but was not satisfied and became an "aspirant artillery officer" with the French army. He continued to write Platt, sending photographs of his placement at the front, postcards and letters, all part of this collection. He was killed in action on May 29, 1918 and a 30pp memorial program in the collection details his life on the front, his commitment and its origins. Sadly, inside the program is a clipping also announcing the later death of his brother S.S. Clark Jr., on Nov. 1, 1918.
Much of Platt's time was spent in the area around Verdun and Platt kept his handwritten itinerary of where he was stationed, aid stations, hospitals, triage and the accompanying divisions. He also owned a copy of "Verdun And the Battles For Its Possession Illustrated Michelin Guides of the Battle-Fields" (1914-1918), which includes detailed battle maps and a history of Verdun, published when the war ended.
Other captured photographs depict trench life in the bunkers of German soldiers attached to an artillery unit and several of captured German soldiers. Later in the war, the German government would drop leaflets to their own troops to boost morale, and extoll the virtues of their own democratic government to counter propaganda being dropped on them by the allies, critical of the German system. A rare German "Flying Leaflet", Deutsche Flugblätter: "Demokratie und Frieden" (Democracy and Peace) is part of this collection, comparing the democracies of France, England and the Wilson-led United States with that of Germany. Included is a partial translation by Platt. We were unable to locate a copy of this in LeMo, Lebendiges Museum Online, which is the virtual museum which is the virtual museum of the Deutsches Historisches Museum (DHM), physically located in Berlin, Stiftung Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (HdG) and the German federal archives, the Bundesarchiv. It measures 9x12".
Platt's interest in the war remained after he returned and in this collection are a Philips' "Large Scale Contoured Map of the Anglo French Front, Including The Western German Frontier and The Line of the Rhine". It details the battlefronts in 1916 and 1917. He also acquired an 1870 German map of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, which led to the third & final act of German unification under Bismarck. The frequent wars in this area lead many Germans to immigrate to the United States, especially between the end of the US Civil War and the war illustrated by this map. This is the same area in which Platt was stationed.
Platt was born 23 Jul 1894 in Westfield, Union, New Jersey to John & Mary Platt and died 6 Aug 1966. He died in Nutley, Essex, New Jersey. He married Anna Powers in about 1930. The 1910 & 1930 census states his father John was born in England and mother Mary in Massachusetts. He appears to be the oldest child of three.
The collection contains 47 individual items. Of particular interest:
Photograph of "American Soldiers Captured at Morhange, Dec. 21, 1917."
German leaflet: Deutsche Flugblatter, "Demokratie und Frieden"
American Field Service in France - Twenty Rules for Care of Ford Ambulances Instruction Chart.
Photograph of Coleman Clark in French uniform in front of underground home.
Besides the vernacular photographs found in the German bunker, there are seven more vernacular photographs. There are two sets of printed photographs that would have been purchased by Platt. These are published captioned views of the war, one set of 16 measuring 3 1/4 x 4 1/2", the other set of 10 measuring 3 1/2 x 2 1/4", with blank versos. The subjects include American Artillery Near Lenoncourt (Meuse); Lake Longemer- Dinner at an American Camp; On Board U.S.S. Rumpler Ready for Subs; Clemenceau Visiting French Aviation Camp Near Front; Bridge at Mousson; Remains of a Boche; U. S. Coast Artillery in Action at Lenoncourt (Meuse), etc. There is also a 10pp detailed description of the collection.
A thorough 10pp description of the 47 items is available on request. Condition of most items is good, with a few exceptions.
A many layered perspective of a young Americans' pivotal experiences in W.W.I.
*16th Infantry Regiment Association website; LOC searching for 'Die Ersten Gefangenen Amerikaner'; U.S. Militaria Forum, AEF POW in German Captivity: Photographs. Web addresses available. Very good condition. Item #26435